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Future of Court Reporting Discussed at Town Hall Meeting

In September, the Omaha Bar Association hosted a town hall meeting with members of the local legal community to discus the futrue of court reporting in Nebraska.  As a part of that town hall meeting, Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters was asked to sit on the panel to provide insight into the matter.  Below are photos from the meeting, as well as an article by David Golbitz from The Daily Record about what transpired at the meeting.  Thank you to the OBA for including Thomas & Thomas in the town hall meeting.  We truly appreciate being a part of the discussion.

 

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Future of Court Reporting in Nebraska Up in the Air

By David Golbitz

The Daily Record

The Omaha Bar Association hosted a town hall meeting with members of the local legal community to discuss the future of court reporting in Nebraska.

A contentious issue, the hour-and-a-half long meeting—moderated by Omaha attorney Stu Dornan — raised a number of questions but provided few answers.

At the heart of the discussion was the fact that Nebraska has a shortage of trained, qualified court reporters, leaving many courtrooms to rely on potentially inaccurate transcriptions made from digital recordings of the testimony.

“(Accurate records are) the lifeblood of what we do,” Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Funke said. “We can't have a justice system without the record. It's important for the litigants, important for the attorneys, important for the trial judge and it's extremely important for me in my job now as an appellate judge. All I do is read the record.”

Most of the lawyers and judges who spoke at the town hall agreed that having a court reporter in the courtroom is the absolute best way to ensure an accurate record.

“If I had my druthers, I would say every courtroom should have a stenographic court reporter,” Funke said. “Is that financially feasible? No. Is that feasible with the shortage that we’re experiencing? No. So what do we do?”

One of the reasons for the court reporter shortage is that Nebraska doesn’t offer a competitive salary. Some court reporters previously employed in Nebraska are leaving for higher wages — by one count, there are currently nine court reporters working in Iowa who used to work in Douglas County.

Funke said that a pay study is currently underway to determine how much Nebraska should be paying its court reporters, but the study won’t be ready until the end of the year.

More competitive pay doesn’t, on its own, mean that there will be enough qualified workers to serve as court reporters, though. Many employers are struggling to draw in the talent they need, and the shortage of court reporters is national — there just aren’t enough workers for all vacancies.

Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley wants the state to do whatever it has to do to ensure every courtroom has a court reporter.

“Cheaper isn’t necessarily better in this context,” Riley said. “I can think of any number of instances where I’m so glad that there was a court reporter that was involved, a human being, a steno, that knows what they’re doing and can keep track of the record both with regard to the physical evidence and the testimony.”

Riley added: “As far as I’m concerned we should do everything we can to keep live steno court reporters in the courtroom as often as we can. And whatever changes we need to do, keep them here.”

The problem with not having a dedicated court reporter in the courtroom is that something might be missed by someone who is just listening to an audio recording.

“I think of all the sidebars we have where you might be talking over me, the court reporter will say, ‘one at a time’ or ‘slow down’ or ‘you’re too quiet,’” Chief Deputy Douglas County Attorney Brenda Beadle said.

Court reporters are able to actively listen to what’s being said.

“If there’s not a way to discern between what’s not important and what is actually important, that is a concern,” Interim Omaha City Attorney Matt Kuhse said.

The potential that a key part of testimony might be missed is significantly higher without a court reporter working in real time in the courtroom.

During her presentation, Sarpy County court reporter Stefanie Allison presented a transcript that had been made from a digital recording that had “261 untranslates, indecipherables, indiscernibles and unidentified speakers.”

“This is an appeal,” Allison said. “This is somebody’s life here, and this record is not accurate. You can’t make a ruling on this.”

Douglas County Court Judge Thomas K. Harmon said that he has had to change the way he presides over his courtroom when he doesn’t have a court reporter.

“One of the things that I try to do on the bench is to be very clear in the questions that I’m asking, hoping that I’ll have an audible record that will in fact, if an appeal comes about, that you do have those facts available and that there is a record made,” Harmon said. “I’m very anal about making sure everyone identifies themselves, making sure that the names are spelled correctly.”

Kuhse said that judges shouldn’t have to split their attention between listening to testimony in the moment and wondering whether the audio recording is going to be clear enough on a later review.

“I do not like recording systems in county court,” Kuhse said. “It places too much burden on the judges to have to get the exhibits, mark the exhibits, keep track of the exhibits, when their attention should be on the evidence and testimony.”

The town hall meeting ended without a clear idea of how to ensure an accurate record is kept for every case if there is not a court reporter in every courtroom.

Most attendees believe there will have to be some sort of hybrid system between having inperson stenographers and using digital recording technology, but no one knows what it will look like.

“Part of solving that problem is to incorporate digital recording into District Court and do it in a way that supports stenos,” District Court Judge Shelly Stratman said. “How is (digital) going to incorporate with our stenos? And how are we going to make sure that we have the software, the equipment, and everything we need to make sure that every attorney and every litigant is getting an accurate record?”

Until that hybrid system is figured out, there will still be only one surefire way to ensure that the court record is accurate.

“I will tell you right here and now the reality is that if you do not have a stenographer in that courtroom you cannot guarantee that that record is accurate,” Allison said. “You cannot. Period.”

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Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters Provides Transcription Services for 2021 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting

On May 1st, 2021, Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters and our team of amazing writers were fortunate enough to again provided court reporting and realtime services for Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting.  This was the 11th consecutive year that Thomas & Thomas has been asked to report for this annual Omaha and world event. 

This year, however, with the COVID-19 pandemic still looming, the meeting was moved from Omaha to Los Angeles, which made for a fun and memorable experience that included travel and a new venue.  For over 4 ½ hours, Mr. Buffett, Mr. Munger and others answered questions on everything from the future of Berkshire Hathaway, to bitcoin, to SPACs. 

In addition to providing the official record of the 2021 meeting, this was the 3rd year that Thomas & Thomas was asked to provide Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger personally with a direct realtime feed of the questions as they were being asked to better assist them in their ability to respond.  And respond the did!  They were amazing and never missed a beat; and, as you might expect, a pleasure to work for.

Congratulations to our tremendously talented court reporters (Brie, Mary Lou and Cheryl) and the entire Birkshire Hathaway team for a job well done.  We look forward to seeing you again next year.

 

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Getting to Know Your Young Lawyers Section of the Nebraska State Bar Association

Getting to Know Your Young Lawyers Section of the Nebraska State Bar Association

In the most recent article of the Nebraska Lawyer, there was a section dedicated to getting to know the Young Lawyers Section Members of the Nebraka State Bar Assocition.  Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters's Geoff Thomas was one of nine Nebraska attorneys interviewed for the article.  Below is an excerpt from that article.

Excerpt:

Geoffrey S. Thomas, J.D., T.P.P., is a 2012 graduate of the Creighton University School of Law, and a certified Trial Presentation Professional, in charge of Business & Technology Development at Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters and Certified Legal Video, L.L.C., in Omaha, Nebraska. As the head of Business & Technology Development, Mr. Thomas’s focus is on researching and implementing new court reporting technologies, including videoconferencing, online repositories, synchronized videotaped depositions, and real-time technology to mobile devices. His certification as a Trial Presentation Professional takes him directly into the courtroom to assist attorneys with the creation and presentation of electronic exhibits, video, and other demonstrative evidence before the trier of fact. Mr. Thomas also assists with and facilitates jury focus groups and mock trial presentations.

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Article by Patrick E. McNamara

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Meet Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters and Certified Legal Video, LLC

Meet Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters and Certified Legal Video, LLC

An oldie, but a goodie.

 

Excerpt:

Reporter: Here begins the interview of John and Gretchen Thomas, owners of Omaha-based Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters and
Certified Legal Video, LLC, a top court-reporting firm which specializes in depositions, legal videography and video conferencing. The time is 12:52 pm. Today's discussion about the growth of the couple's 35-year-old company and the evolution of the court reporting profession is taking place at the firm's new offices at 1321 Jones St. Let the record reflect that Mr. Thomas, who organized Omaha's massive Corporate Cup road race from 1982 - 2009, is a court reporter and certified legal video specialist (CLVS), and that Ms. Thomas, a registered professional reporter (RPR) and certified real-time reporter (CRR), until recently, balanced duties as an official court reporter at the Sarpy County Courthouse with her duties at Thomas & Thomas. Since April 2011, she's been focusing all of her energies on the family business.

 

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Article by DanMcCann, The Daily Record

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Why Does One Become A Court Reporter?

It's Court Reporting & Captioning week, and today Thomas & Thomas Court Reporters and Certified Legal Video, LLC would like to share why John and Gretchen Thomas became a court reporters.  Although their stories are very different, it was court reporting that ultimately brought them together.

 

Why John Thomas became a court reporter:

 

"I was 100 percent influenced to becoming a court reporter by my court reporter brother, Roger. I admired roger and wanted a life in the courtroom like him. This desire gave me the dedication to make it through the rigors of reporting school and to obtain a job anywhere. Thats why I moved to Omaha not knowing anything about Nebraska. My brother changed my life."

 

Why Gretchen Thomas became a court reporter:

 

"I wish that I had a 'romantic' story to tell as to why I became a court reporter: You know, like someone who inspired me, a life-long dream, child prodigy ...
But no. I became a court reporter because I lived in a small town in Wisconsin, attended a very small high school, and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do after graduation. So at the suggestion of my English teacher and guidance counselor, I made a different kind of a list, the list of 'Jobs I do not want to have when I grow up.' I remember that it was an extensive list, but I only remember now that doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, fireman, clown, and unwed mother were part of the list. I don't know why.

 

Then one day during my senior year my dad told me about a friend of his who was a court reporter, Dale Braden. I checked out court reporting. It sounded very interesting. And it wasn't on my list! So I packed my small-town bags, followed in the footsteps of Mary Tyler Moore (after all, it was 1974), and moved to Minneapolis to attend Northern Technical School of Business, where I met my future husband and business partner. We both became court reporters, got married, raised three sons, lived happily ever after. I have LOVED my unexpected career. It has been stimulating and exciting and has afforded wonderful opportunities for our family, and I can see now that I had the romantic ending instead."

 

 

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